Saturday, March 24, 2012

LEGOs: educational innovation?

I recently learned that LEGO has given some rather large grants to schools in 14 regions nationwide. Basically, students will play with LEGOs starting in Kindergarten all the way through their Senior year of high school, & it will magically turn them into 21st century leaders. The news article I read touted playtime as being remarkably beneficial to children, as if this was some sort of new discovery they had made. 

Here's the thing: our school systems have removed playtime. PE has been cut out almost completely. Remember gym class everyday, sports outside, running the track, dodgeball....yeah none of that happens anymore. PE happens less than once a week now. And recess? Yep, that's been cut down too. So has art & music - all things shown to be highly beneficial to children.

So they've removed the opportunities for our children to have optimal learning conditions, & then requested grants from name brand companies to reintroduce the same opportunities with *their* products. Did I get that right? Now, I'm all for charitable donations. If LEGO wants to give their products to students then by all means, that's wonderful. What gets me is this - the school system in return gives $80K into this LEGO program as well. So it's not really a gift, but a matching promotion. And it's not to be spread out equally across the entire school districts, oh no, it's only certain schools within the regions chosen that receive this "opportunity". Certainly then it must be the lowest performing, lowest income, most at-risk student population schools then? Oh wait... no, it's not.

Before you think "gee Gypsy's just jealous because her kid can't play with LEGOs in school"...think again. My kid is in one of the schools in one of the 14 regions nationwide. And I'm effing pissed. Let me explain why: 

I get that these nifty little stacking bricks provide hand-eye coordination, encourage creativity, foster engineering skills, spatial awareness, & other neurosynaptic wonders. What I *don't* understand is why we don't reinstate PE, music, art, & actually introduce foreign languages as a mandatory topic in elementary school. I also fail to understand why this grant goes all the way through high school. I can buy into the idea of LEGOs being beneficial as a K-3 learning tool, but beyond that.... not really. 

$160K per school district is being spent to ensure that children play with a common, albeit increasingly expensive, household toy. Broken down, that's $40K from LEGO, $40K from the Education Blueprints Association, & $80K matched from the school district. It's that last $80K that I'm particularly pissed about.

That $80K, if spread out amongst all the schools in the district or - *heaven forbid* be given to the most at-risk schools - could go a hell of a lot further than some bags of LEGOs. As someone who works with the developmentally disabled, my first thought went to that particular segment of the population. They are underserved, under staffed, ignored, misunderstood, and marginalized. Children with special needs receive limited services through 5th grade at which point they are mainstreamed with less or no services or placed in a separate track - one that basically says "you aren't worth trying to educate anymore". That $80K could go towards employing more special needs teachers who are actually trained to deal with the challenges these children face and who know how to appreciate the abilities they have instead of having overworked teachers who leave their classroom to teacher aides who sit on their cell phones all day. These children have real capabilities and real learning potential, and they're ignored. Their needs are nowhere near met, and it infuriates me. Does nobody realize that people with special needs have so much potential, and most can be fully productive citizens if only given the support they need? 

What about the at-risk kids - low income, foster care, gang related, those kinds of students? They're often in neighbourhoods that are poorer, which translates to schools that are inadequate. I currently volunteer in one of those actually, where the teachers are given a limited supply of printer paper & once it's gone for the year it's gone. The differences between schools in a low income neighbourhood & a high income one is astonishing, but nobody seems to care to equalize it. Does nobody realize that these children are our next generation, whether or not they are rich or poor? Why aren't they all given the same opportunities? Does nobody realize that those who are economically disadvantaged are more likely to have an array of difficulties and discrimination in life that *starts* with an inadequate education?

I could carry on about the segments of students that are inadequately served, and how they are at even more of a disadvantage by virtue of our current educational setup, but I won't. Those reading who understand my frustration will already be aware of the issues, and those who don't will have enough to contemplate with just those examples. 

So this is my closing thought - why aren't these fantastic STEM (science/math/engineering/technology) improving LEGO grants being given to the autism programs, the low income schools, the deaf/blind community, or other kids who could benefit from it so much more than your average middle class student? Better yet, *why* are these administrators not aware of the impact their $80K match could have if spread out amongst those who need it most? 

Our school system is failing, & I'm ashamed to say that my kid is the one sitting in class playing with $160K LEGOs while your kid may be sharing pencils & paper with their classmate, waiting to take a turn to write out an inadequate exercise because the school simply can't afford anything better.

This is not equality. This is not serving the needs of all. This is not right. This is our educational system failing our children, as a nation, as a whole, by ensuring that the gap between the haves & have nots grows even more in the next generation.

No comments:

Post a Comment